A long time ago when I was in 1st grade, I was lucky to have a weekly Japanese class taught by a lovely woman who worked well with children. From what I remembered, we learned very basic things about Japanese culture. For instance, I vividly remember learning how to wear a kimono. One way is the regular folded left over right (or was it right over left?) way everyone normally wears a kimono, and the other style is for someone who is dead; since, as a kid, I thought it was cool to be dead, I kept switching it the wrong way. Besides that, I also remember watching my very first anime title, not knowing it was anime at the time. I was lucky enough to watch Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro, which I immensely enjoyed. Certain titles have a wide range of appeal and draw, in which they can be the perfect family film. Panda! Go Panda, released in 1972, is much like My Neighbor Totoro, being one of those family films both the parents and children can enjoy.
Panda! Go Panda! is directed by Isao Takahata, best known for My Neighbors the Yamadas and Grave of the Fireflies; and written by the famous Hayao Miyazaki, a man who even non-anime fans know by name. On that note, Panda! Go Panda! will most likely be the only time we at Children of the Blazing Fist cover a Miyazaki work. Panda! Go Panda! is split up into two 30 minute short films featuring Mimiko, an adorable young girl with a big heart who lives with her grandmother in a small country house surrounded by a bamboo grove.
One day, Mimiko’s grandmother must leave on an important trip causing the little child to be left alone to fend for herself. After coming home from a few stops in town for groceries, Mimiko finds a young panda named Panny outside her home. Not long after Mimiko invites Panny’s inside, Panny’s large dad Papa Panda, soon follows behind him and makes himself at home. Mimiko asks Papa Panda if he could be her father as well since she has no currently living parents, and asks if she can be a mother to Panny. They quickly develop into their roles and grown into one happy family, with Panny being curious about Mimiko’s school and deciding to follow her there, which in the end results in Papa Panda getting a job at the zoo. The three of them also help circus animals after a torrential flood which has submerged the whole town.
There are a number of films I would consider perfect family films; a few Disney titles come to mind like my top choice Aladdin or The Muppets Movie, special films where everyone of all ages can enjoy them on multiple levels. The same can be said for Panda! Go Panda!, as children will love Mimiko’s vibrant and bubbly personality while interacting with various characters like the policeman who is protective of her, the show keepers in town, or even her fellow classmates. An older audience will enjoy not being talked down to, a common problem for most modern children’s film such as Cars 2 and G-Force (Anyone remember G-Force? Yeah, me neither.). Coupled together with the humor, it is hard not to watch the adorable opening theme song with dancing pandas and not start to smile.
Panda! Go Panda! is packed with humor from every character and their respective situations. Papa Panda is laid back with a nonchalant demeanor, often unfazed to most problems. For instance, when a large dog starts charging at him and Kimiko, Papa Panda waits until the last possible moment to roar and scare the beast away, the dog whimpers and hides behind his owner, afraid of Papa Panda. The dog then sees Panny innocently sitting there and decides to charge, believing Panny to be a much easier and smaller target and latches his jaw completely around his head. Just like his dad previously, Panny casually pulls the dog of and throws the massive hound back at the dog’s owner. Mimiko herself has a healthy dose of blind innocence like most curious children, once stating on the current home-invasion, that “she has never seen a burglar and would love to meet one”, a statement that some younger viewers might agree with Mimiko’s statement without hesitation. Thus is the beauty of Panda! Go Panda!, where younger audiences like my nieces and nephew would identify with Mimiko, whereas me, an older viewer, would find her endearing, yet still funny.
Pros: Panda! Go Panda! Is a bright and colorful anime, with a simple to follow story line. The characters are a joy to watch, from Papa Panda and his care free life style, to Mimiko and her innocence not only in personality but also how she views the world. Even Panny with his buoyant and boundless energy.
Cons: While my comrade Franklin Raines and I can sit and personally enjoy Panda! Go Panda! on its own merits (without the excuse of kidnapping a small child to watch with us), the average anime fan might have a hard time appreciating what at its core is an anime meant for young children. Adults viewers might find Papa Panda kind of creepy at points, all while wearing his Freddy Krueger looking hat.
In terms of young children’s animation that is enjoyable for both kids and adults, Panda! Go Panda! from Tokyo Movie Shinsha is up there on the list. Both audiences can delight in the light hearted humor that permeates the two stories shown. Studio Ghibli would continue to make more films in this regard with some of my favorites like Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro.